The crunchier, lighter, healthier wrap
Salad rolls are crisp, flavorful finger food
By Susan Reilly email@example.com
Placed in front of me was a sandwich plate piled high with what seemed like Peter Rabbit perfect Boston lettuce leaves, little bowls unto themselves.
Next to that, a soup bowl filled with piping hot pulled chicken made spicy with garlic, oyster sauce and sesame oil, caramelized onions and an assortment of root vegetables cut into matchsticks.
This was one of the most memorable meals I have ever had; it was a couple of years ago in San Francisco. It was fall then, and eating with your fingers — filling each lettuce bowl with the tangy chicken — was a perfect blend of hot and spicy along with cool and crisp. It seemed like erotic comfort food at its best.
Salad rolls, as they are called, is a broad term for a tasty dish of exotic ingredients all wrapped neat in a lettuce leaf or rice paper wrapper. The perfect finger food, a good salad roll will hit all of your senses in a single bite, while being easy to dip and nibble.
Locally, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants offer salad rolls with as many names as ingredients.
“Salad rolls are a big part of our cuisine. Everyone makes their rolls differently, depending on their influences,” said Samantha Diep, owner of Pho Golden Bowl in Manchester, an authentic Vietnamese restaurant.
At Pho Golden Bowl, there is the fresh roll ($3.75) made of shrimp, chicken, vermicelli , basil and lettuce, and then the pulled pork roll ($4.50) and a hot sausage roll ($4.50) all wrapped and neatly folded in rice paper and served with a spicy dipping sauce.
Each roll is made to order and Diep gave me a lesson recently using rice paper.
Rice paper wraps are literally like a fancy paper. To soften, Diep quickly and gently soaked each sheet in a pan of warm water before laying it on a clean work surface.
It is best to have the filling ready and at hand when you start dipping the rice paper into the water so that you can work fast.
For each roll, Diep uses a large, 12-inch round, with a smaller 8-inch round on top for extra support.
She sets out a few sheets of moistened rice paper and assembles. Since the rice paper is sheer, it is smart to layer ingredients with the finished product in mind. For the fresh roll, the shrimp is placed first, making for a vibrant presentation when wrapped.
Once all the ingredients are layered, the wrap is rolled and folded, with the moist rice paper acting as a self-adhesive.
“It is really beautiful when it is done — appetizing and tasty,” Diep said.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are the wraps made with a simple gorgeous piece of lettuce.
Locally called “soong” on menus, the rolls are available at restaurants including Jasmine Palace in Nashua and Thousand Crane in Manchester.
Great to order when out, salad rolls can also easily be had at home. They are the perfect vehicle for leftover chicken, beef or fish and whatever you have in the refrigerator because only small quantities are needed.
Like the filling in the rolls, dipping sauces are whatever suits your fancy.
For a party, rice paper rolls are best prepared ahead and set out on a plate. But lettuce-wrapped rolls are fun and easy for friends to make themselves. Simply prep the lettuce leaves and pile high. Set out bowls of filling with spoons and watch people dive in.
DIY salad rolls
Serve one ingredient from each group
• Wrapper: Red leaf lettuce, Boston or Bibb or rice paper wrappers (available in the supermarket)
• Herbs: whatever is available
• Protein: Chicken (make it quick with a supermarket rotissere chicken), cooked shrimp, tiny lamb meatballs, pulled pork, thinly sliced steak. This is a great way to use leftovers.
• Crunchy: Bean sprouts, cucumbers cut thin, jicama cut into matchsticks.
• Tart: Star fruit, granny Smith apple sliced thin, any pickled vegetables.
• Bitter: Spinach, scallion.
• Sweet: Pineapple, papaya.
Assemble and enjoy.
Where to get salad rolls
• Chiang Mai, 63 Route 101A Amherst, 672-2929. Fresh rolls ($4.95).
• Jasmine Palace, 116 West Pearl St., Nashua, 882-9168. Phoenix Soong ($6.95)
• Pho Golden Bowl, 124 Queen City Ave., Manchester, 622-2000. Fresh summer rolls ($3.50).
• Szechuan House, 245 Maple St. Manchester 669-8811. Chicken soong for two ($5.95).
• Thousand Crane, 1000 Elm St., Manchester, 634-0000. Phoenix Soong ($6.50).
• Vietnam Noodle House, 138 Main St., Nashua, 886-4566, Fresh spring rolls ($3.75).
• YouYou, 150 Broad St., Nashua, 882-8337, Thai spring rolls ($5.25)..